Some emails (or texts or tweets) really should not be sent. You instantly regret sending that cross/rude/libellous message that you wrote in the heat of the moment but it’s too late – it has gone and is forever more recorded in some digital Book of Judgement, never to be recalled nor expunged. Had you paused you might – on reflection – not have acted so hastily. It may have been better to wait until the cool morning light before pressing “send”.
We are living in times when feelings are running high. This is clearly true in the church over the matter of human sexuality. It is true in wider society too, as issues such as Brexit and gender identity cause heated arguments in politics and on social media. These things are important and there are – quite properly – deeply held views on all sides. There is nothing wrong with passionate, robust and conscience-driven debate. This is one of the ways in which we try to clarify where the truth lies in our common life.
But this season of Lent may teach us that such discussion is best had after careful reflection. We learn the importance of pausing before we speak and engage. In the Lenten wilderness, we are primarily in listening mode. We discover the value of taking time out to think, pray and reflect. This does not mean we stop wrestling with deep and contentious questions or try and stop others from doing so. The Lenten pause is not a stepping aside from the demands of living but an opportunity to stop and listen carefully and pay attention, so that when we speak and act we do so wisely.
This necessary listening is threefold.
We must listen to ourselves. What am I feeling? What is troubling or moving my spirit at the moment? What preoccupies my thinking and why? How is this shaping my behaviour towards others?
We will listen to others. Lent is a great time for shared Bible study or Lent groups. We gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ to listen to one another (especially those with whom we disagree!). We also open our ears to what is happening in our streets, neighbourhoods and communities. What questions are being asked. For what do people long and why?
Above all, we pause to listen to God who sometimes speaks to us from within and through others and will always speak through scripture, worship, service and prayer. What is God saying to us, if we would only pause for a moment to listen?
In an age driven by relentless social media and constant digital distraction, there is precious little incentive to pause so that when we speak and act, we do so from a place of wisdom and compassion. Lent is the gift that reminds us of the importance of this measured attention to ourselves, to others and to God; the wisdom of pausing before pressing the button.
Rt Revd Matthew Parker
Bishop of Stafford